“That career dream turned into becoming a surgeon,” said Krisch, a February 2020 graduate of Fordham College at Rose Hill. She is heading to medical school this fall.
Body Cells, Dry Ice, and Dissections
Krisch has lived on Long Island her whole life. She grew up in Glen Cove with her mother, a high school anatomy and chemistry teacher; her father, an IT worker; and two older brothers, an accountant and an aspiring police officer.
The three siblings were surrounded by science, thanks to their mother, who carried her classroom home. Once she scraped the inside of her children’s cheeks with a toothpick and showed them the structure of their cells under a microscope. Another day, she brought home dry ice and explained the science behind sublimation, the transformation from solid to gas. One summer, after Krisch helped her mother clean her classroom, the two of them dissected a fetal pig. For the first time in her life, Krisch saw an animal heart and “spaghetti” intestines up close.
“I remember thinking, wow, everything in here is a lot gooier than I thought it was, but also a lot larger and complex,” said Krisch. “From a very young age, [my mother]instilled a passion for science in me.”
In high school, she found a field that combined the two passions she had honed throughout her childhood: orthopedic surgery.
“Bones. Musculoskeletal systems. Joint replacements, broken bones, traumas—all of that,” Krisch explained. “They call it the carpentry of medicine because there’s a lot of power tools involved.”
For almost eight months in 2015, Krisch shadowed a local orthopedic surgeon in Great Neck, New York, and saw him diagnose and treat many patients. She recalled a man with osteoarthritis who couldn’t walk when he first arrived at the clinic.
“By the end of my time shadowing Dr. Simonson, that same patient was shooting hoops with his grandchildren,” said Krisch. “I was like, wow, I want to be able to do that. That’s a miracle in medicine.”
A Future Doctor at Fordham
In 2016, she graduated as valedictorian of Glen Cove High School. For the next three-and-a-half years, she studied biology on the pre-health track at Fordham College at Rose Hill. She mentored first-year students as an undergraduate assistant for the ASPIRES Scholars Program, served at-risk high school students through the Fordham chapter of Strive for College, and taught review sessions as teaching assistant coordinator for the Fordham chemistry department.
“She is, at her core, a teacher, which is why she’ll be such a phenomenal physician,” said Ellen Watts, assistant dean for pre-health advising. “She has the natural ability to see when others need help and be able to guide them through what they need to move forward—not just to give them answers, but to help them learn.”
At Fordham, Krisch took classes in medieval history and ancient philosophy—things that don’t necessarily go with biology, but can help her connect with patients from many backgrounds, she said.
“Surgeons get the bad rap of being impersonal; they’re only interested in science, they can [only]talk about their profession. Fordham offers that great, well-rounded liberal arts education that enables you to talk about more than your major,” said Krisch.
In her first month at Fordham, she began serving as an emergency medical technician with Fordham University Emergency Medical Services. Throughout various roles, from crew chief to captain to head of day staff, she provided patient care to both members of the Fordham and Bronx community until December 2019—her final month as an undergraduate.
Krisch said she graduated a semester early to help her save money for medical school and give her brain a much-needed break. This spring semester, she’s worked as a full-time tutor for high school and college students and visited the Rose Hill campus several times to co-present workshops to juniors and seniors preparing to apply to medical school. Krisch said she has been accepted to two medical schools in New York state, but is waiting to hear back from several more; she will make her final decision by July.
‘It’ll Be Maria Who’s Helping Them Be Their Best’
Becoming a physician in orthopedic surgery, a male-dominated field, will be a little challenging, said Krisch. More than 84% of orthopedic surgery resident physicians are men, according to the American Medical Association. But Krisch says she’s ready.
“I’m excited to be able to make those dramatic life-changing transformations. I’m excited for the unpredictability of the job. No broken bone is the same,” she said.
Krisch is becoming a doctor amid one of the worst health catastrophes to hit the world: the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the U.S. health care system didn’t lack the proper training to handle the pandemic, but it suffered from a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment. After things settle down, she said, it will be important to review what we did right and wrong. Her initial thoughts include returning the manufacturing of medical equipment/supplies/pharmaceuticals back to the U.S. and addressing socioeconomic disparities in health care.
“In medicine, it’s absolutely important to be proactive, but it’s equally important to be flexible and reactionary when a Black Swan event such as COVID-19 comes about,” she said.
Ten years from now, Krisch envisions herself as an orthopedic surgeon, a medical school professor, and an overall mentor. It’s a desire that stems from her science-driven upbringing and her mentoring experiences from high school to college, she said.
Krisch isn’t a physician yet, but her mentor said she can already see her future.
“She’s not even there yet,” said Watts. “But you can see that these little kids who are 5, 6, 7 years old who think they want to be a doctor 20 years from now—it’ll be Maria who’s helping them be their best.”